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Ranger Rick
Story by Dave Norton
Artwork by G. Newell
An ounce of power is worth a pound of brains ...


Our window of sunlight had just closed as the southwestern rim of Lyell Canyon cast its shadow over Cable Camp, a popular backpacker's group camp six miles up the Lyell Fork of the Tuolumne River from Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite's high country. We were just mopping up the last of the crispy bits of minced garlic and fresh-from-the-meadow green onion from the frying pan, having finished the last of the fried Brook Trout breaded in corn meal, and filling in the corners with pan fried country potatoes.

As the cool evening chill of the late September twilight descended and our conversation turned to plans for the morrow's day hike up to Ireland Lake, we noticed a visitor in camp. Meandering slowly from camp to camp, chatting amiably with the other backpackers, up the slope came our old pal Ranger Rick.

"Rangers Rick", you should understand, come in several guises, depending on location, circumstance, and a bit on the luck-of-the-draw. They can be found at widely varying positions along a broad spectrum, with considerable variation in experience, capability, helpfulness, intelligence, reason, and even sex (both). They all have one trait in common: they are government employees.

Now, lest you take that as a blanket indictment, let me assure you it is not. It was scarcely two years ago, in fact, that fate placed my life, quite literally, in the hands of just such a Ranger Rick-ette. Her presence, quick thinking, good judgment, level head and human compassion got my wife and I out of a very tough situation (involving a helicopter medical evacuation) not half a mile from this spot. But that's another story.

This particular Ranger Rick was, shall we say, at quite the other end of the spectrum in most of these respects. He presented the very picture of a modern major Constable. His Smoky hat, its brim billiard-table flat and scrupulously spotless, sat squarely atop his clean-shaven and square-jawed countenance. His stern yet noble expression exuded an air of confident authority. His spit-shined boots and belt reflected the rays of the sun most splendidly. His shirt and trousers were neatly creased and starched, as though fresh from the haberdasher. His chestnut steed matched his manor and presence to a tee.

With a winning smile and flash of his perfect pearly white teeth, he casually engaged us in conversation, inquiring as to our plans for our stay in what he obviously considered to be "his" forest. He verified that yes, we had the proper bear-proof food containers and yes, our Wilderness Permit seemed to be in order. Then, dear friends, the fun began.

For in the shade of the camp sofa/log he espied an object of great concern. With furrowed brow he dismounted his hoofed companion and approached the offending item. "Are you fishing?" he asked. "Why yes", I responded, as holder of the Permit. I presented my license, which he studied and returned.

"What are these?" he asked, holding my little wire screen cricket house, full of the crickets I had purchased in Bishop for use as bait on the higher lakes. "Crickets." I responded. "This won't do," he stated, opening the lid and sprinkling the fortunate insects on the ground at his feet.

"The use or possession of live bait in a National Park is a violation of Federal Law," he explained, fixing me in his most officious and stern gaze. "There are two reasons for this law," he continued. "The first is in order to prevent folks from depleting the population of indigenous species by catching and using them for bait." OK, so far... "The second reason is to prevent people from bringing non-indigenous species into the area and accidentally introducing them into the environment, possibly upsetting the delicate balance of the local ecosystem."

Stunned silence. I believe a candid photo taken at that moment would have shown about six mouths drop open, slack-jawed, for just a moment. He handed my container back to me, admonished me sternly not to do this again, bid us a good evening, remounted, and serenely departed.

We stared at him as he left, then at each other, then at him, and back to each other, everyone asking whether he did, in fact, just say and do what we each thought he said and did. We all agreed he did. After a moment of absolute disbelief, we all dropped to the ground fetching up our critical supply of Federally Prohibited live bait. We recovered nearly every one!

Ranger Ratchet is a close living relative of Ranger Rick, within the same subspecies. Photos by Trouthunter.

©Dave Norton 2002


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